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The "Crisis of Confidence" series is a multi-year effort by the Tri States Public Radio to document the impact the two-year state budget impasse had on Western Illinois University and the ongoing recovery efforts at WIU. State support for public higher education institutions has been steadily declining in Illinois for more than a decade. But the issue was compounded, during the state's historic two-year budget impasse during Fiscal Years '16 and '17 which left public colleges and universities with little state financial support. At Western Illinois University, that drastic cut in state appropriations resulted in significant budget cuts, employee furloughs, and layoffs.

Senator Tracy Reflects on State Budget & School Funding

Senator Tracy visited Macomb to speak to the members of the McDonoguh County Interagency Council

Illinois lawmakers have been called back to the capitol a few times this summer to weigh in on big state issues during legislative special sessions.  Tri States Public Radio recently caught up with Senator Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) when she visited to Macomb. She spoke with TSPR about the two biggest votes of the summer so far: the state budget and K-12 school funding.

In early July, Illinois lawmakers put an end to the nearly two year budget impasse when they voted to override Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto. Nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers broke from Rauner to stand with Democrats to pass the budget deal. Tracy was not one of them. She voted against the override.

Tracy said many Republicans felt pressure to vote against the Governor because of the looming threat that the state’s credit rating would be downgraded to junk status.  But she said the budget deal did not include the business reforms that Governor Rauner wanted as part of his turnaround agenda. She said even though these issues would not normally be included in a budget process, she believes they are vital for job growth.

“That budget had some major flaws in it. I think it is out of balance and it still overspends and most importantly, to me, it did not have the reforms that we needed,” said Tracy.

Tracy said an income tax increase without business reforms hurts middle class families and does little to change the state for the better. She called the income tax increase a hardship that is likely to encourage more people to leave the state.

Tracy said she is confident that the Governor’s pro-business reforms will be discussed more next session. Tracy said she hopes to make more progress next year to change the way Illinois policies are structured in order to give the state a more competitive edge in attracting and growing business to bring back jobs.

Senator Tracy was one of two lawmakers to miss the vote regarding overriding the Governor's amendatory veto of SB1 on Sunday, August 13.

Tracy missed the other major vote of the summer when the Illinois Senate overrode the Governor’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1, the K-12 school funding measure.

Tracy said she was out of town on vacation during the vote on Sunday, August 13. She said the trip was planned a year prior and she had not expected that the legislature would be in session in mid-August.

Tracy said she supported the Governor’s proposed changes to Senate Bill 1 and would have voted against the override. She said her vote would not have changed the outcome and thus she decided against cutting short her trip to return to Springfield. 

Tracy said she could have done without the private school vouchers and the adjustments made for TIF districts under the Governor's plan. "That was kind of a curve ball I wasn't expecting." But she said almost all of the schools districts within her Senate district would receive more money under the Governor's version of SB1. 

There has been some push back to those numbers. Even the biggest winner under the Governor's plan, Elgin District U-46, has voiced opposition. The school district's superintendent said the Governor's proposal does include more money upfront but makes so many adjustments over the years that school districts will ultimately lose out.

Legislative leaders in recent days have been negotiating a compromise plan for funding schools.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.